Lisa was the apple of her father’s eye. It was a bitter blessing, therefore, that she could be at his bedside when my brother died. My own experiences of loss prompt me to remember her often during this past month. Grief is damn hard!
As we took our inevitable leave on the afternoon of the funeral, Lisa and I embraced to express our grief, enduring affection and mutual need for consolation. Experience reminded me of what was in store for her — the seeming finality of what feels like an ultimate goodbye, the bottomless pit that would likely open as she drove the fifty miles to her home in Sioux City, how those miles committed to memory from so many happy occasions could now appear foreign, inhospitable, estranged.
I felt compelled to say something profound, at least avuncular. But there are no words! Yet, I mumbled something, fumbling to say what Dietrich Bonhoeffer expressed so well:
Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love…
it is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; God doesn’t fill it,
but on the contrary, God keeps it empty
and so helps us keep alive our former communion with each other,
even at the cost of pain…
the dearer and richer the memories,
the more difficult the separation.
That’s been my experience. Perhaps it will be Lisa’s. The challenge for me has been to leave the emptiness empty, open, raw as it is! I know the futility of trying to anesthetize the pain with alcohol. We are prone to fill the void with consumption or consumerism of all sorts. We easily seek diversion and distraction aplenty. Yet, what’s buried alive stays alive. If in our desperation we attempt to deaden our irreplaceable loss, our profound and personal “emptiness”, the void remains only a vacuous insatiable hole.
The unimaginable, the painful bitter route of grief unencumbered, becomes our source of blessing if we can remain open, embracing loss as life’s ultimate assurance of love. Bonhoeffer wisely concludes:
But gratitude changes the pangs of memory into tranquil joy.
The beauties of the past are borne, not as a thorn in the flesh,
but as a precious gift in themselves.
Of this I am certain… Lisa remains the apple of her father’s eye!